Birthday girl marks milestone treatment
16 October 2018
Sylvia Rodighiero has become the 500th North Queenslander to receive a bone marrow transplant at The Townsville Hospital on the same day she celebrated her 66th birthday.
It comes a tick over 20 years since the first bone marrow transplant was performed at the Townsville General Hospital in July 1998.
Townsville is the only hospital outside south-east Queensland to offer the life-saving and life-extending treatment.
Supervising scientist at The Townsville Hospital’s stem cell laboratory Andrew McCutchan said the service had come a long way since the early days.
“We used to be in a tiny corner of the old pathology laboratory which was across the road from the old general hospital,” he said.
“We’d have to take frozen bags of cells in a dry shipper – a super duper esky – up hill and down dale to get to the oncology ward.
“It used to be a small part of our workload and over the years it has been so pleasing to see it become a dedicated full-time unit that has been able to help so many North Queenslanders.”
Sylvia was diagnosed with myeloma, a blood cancer, in September last year.
Before the bone marrow transplant chemotherapy is done to reduce the cancer burden.
The healthy bone marrow stem cells are then withdrawn from the blood stream using an apheresis machine and the cells are then frozen and stored in steel containers at minus 196 degrees Celsius.
“Previously we had to collect the blood cells through a surgical operation but now it can be done at the patient’s bedside,” Andrew said.
“The bone marrow transplant itself is simply returning those healthy cells to the patient in a process that takes a tick over 30 minutes.
“The healthy cells find their way back into the bone marrow and start producing healthy blood cells.”
Haemotologist Dr John Casey said Sylvia was recovering well.
“The treating team is really pleased with Sylvia’s recovery and she is progressing as well as expected,” he said.
“We allow people a couple of weeks for the transplant to work and then a few extra weeks to monitor but then Sylvia will be able to go home.”
Dr Casey said earlier in the year the Townsville HHS officially opened a dedicated bone marrow transplant unit at The Townsville Hospital.
The unit provides additional specialised rooms that provide a dedicated environment that protects from infection.
“The service and the unit we have here in North Queensland is really something very unique for regional Australia,” he said.
“Bone marrow transplants are used to cure cancers and significantly improve long-term survival rates and is a significant service to offer locally.
“It is extremely gratifying to be one of the few regional centres who can offer this world-class cancer service closer to North Queenslander’s homes and families.”
Sylvia said it was nice having her friends and family visit for her birthday on the day of her milestone treatment.
“It actually was a bit of a privilege being able to not only celebrate my birthday but also share in this milestone with the hospital,” she said.
“Everyone has taken such good care of me and I am happy to be patient number 500.
“I am feeling better today and hopefully I keep improving and get to go home soon.”
Transplants by year:
1998 – 14
1999 – 20
2000 – 24
2001 – 12
2002 – 20
2003 – 15
2004 – 25
2005 – 25
2006 – 30
2007 – 29
2008 – 7
2009 – 18
2010 – 24
2011 – 34
2012 – 23
2013 – 35
2014 – 26
2015 – 31
2016 – 38
2017 – 21
2018 – 29